Q&A: Robert Mowles, Aartech Canada
In many ways, Robert Mowles is a classic example of basement to boardroom: an entrepreneur who started a business in his own home, and through hard work and determination, made it a flourish. He has expanded his business several times and is about to move into a new 7,000 sq.-ft. facility in the Oshawa, Ont., area. But Mowles is also part of a movement in security that has seen DIY and dealer models begin to coincide and overlap. SP&T News recently spoke to Mowles about how home security is changing and how dealers and installers may ultimately benefit.
SP&T News: How did you get your start in security?
Robert Mowles: The business started in my basement [in 2002]. We were buying and selling X10 Automation gear back then. I remember my wife coming downstairs and saying, “What are you doing?” It was 11 o’clock at night and I had the tape gun going. I said, “I think this might pay the bills one day.”
That was literally the start of the company. Really, it’s been an ongoing concern and full time business for more like seven or eight years.
SP&T: Why did you decide to branch out into different product types?
RM: A lot of it was customer driven. We started out with very simple automation.
When our customers started putting this into their homes back then, they were asking for products to go with it. I think back then it was security cameras. From there, [it was] “Now I would like to secure the place.” So we got into security equipment. These products all go hand in hand and a lot of it was customer-focused.
SP&T: Has your focus always been residential?
RM: We started dealing with Do-It-Yourself strictly. Over the years it has grown to more of a mix. Initially it was all one or two residential do-it-yourself applications. We still do some of that, but today it’s more about helping installers and dealers find solutions.
Because our business started as the direct-to-consumer, do-it-yourself business, that was initially the focus. As we started building the brands and building the vendor relationships — back then, I would say that even the large distributors were not focusing at all on this type of product line. I saw the opportunity to really take this to the dealers and installers and create awareness and build our professional installer base. Aartech Pro was born out of that drive to work with the pro installer and help them find solutions and find products.
SP&T: How are you able to balance selling to both end users and installers?
RM: The security and automation business has morphed and grown and changed so quickly that the reality is that everyone from Amazon to Best Buy to Lowe’s and everyone in-between is now in this business.
We know that customers are going to do their research online; they’re going to check retail stores; they’re going to check other retail sites . . . because we are in this business and we touch those customers, we find a lot of those customers who need installation service.
As a result, we give out a lot of leads . . . I don’t know how many thousands of dollars of business we’ve given to installation firms as the result of a simple lead.
If the customer is looking for a one-off product and they’re completely content to do it on their own, fine.
But many times they get partway through that process and they realize that they don’t really have the skill or the time or the inclination to do it for a larger job, and at that point we love to refer to installing dealers.
SP&T: As you see the market changing, how much of your business is selling direct to the end user and how much is going to the dealer?
RM: It’s probably 60/40 – 60 per cent retail. Two years ago, it probably would have been 80 per cent to retail.
The trend is, and the intention is, to push more of that through professional installers. That’s the focus of our business: to embrace that. We’re trying to help them embrace it at the same time.
The customer doesn’t always want to have the after-the-fact monthly bill associated with the product. Do I agree with that? Not always. When it comes to an alarm or a life safety system, I disagree with only self-monitoring. But there’s something to be said for being able to check on your system remotely. I believe strongly that if you’re doing this for personal safety or personal security, then it should be monitored.
SP&T: Do you see yourself in competition with the big, multinational distributors?
RM: Certainly, if I’m going to grow my direct-to-dealer model, that’s who we’re competing with on one side — the regional distributors and the multi-branch, multi-national distributors. Yes, we share a number of lines with them. We also have a number of lines that are unique to us. The fact of the matter is, because we represent dozens of lines versus hundreds of lines, we can perform a different level of problem-solving, support, trouble-shooting and guidance.
SP&T: Do you think people are ready for an IoT world? Is it well understood?
RM: I think part of the problem is it’s an “Internet of Things,” and not a cohesive solution in many cases. What I think is happening is we’re starting to see, or I hope we’ll start to see, all the pieces coming together, instead of everybody screaming that they have the best technology — whether it’s through co-operation or by consolidation of companies.
SP&T: Are you able to grow organically and add lines as you see fit?
RM: The intent is to grow by adding sales and support staff. Being a trusted solutions provider — that’s really our intent. I hope to be able to drive more business through dealers as a result of our experience with both sides of the channel [direct and through dealers] and help them understand some of the different business models other than selling inexpensive of free alarm systems and looking for only the RMR. We’d like to show them other ways to go to market and do business.
Today, we’re a Canadian-only company with a single branch. My intent is to grow and add other offices as well.
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